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Tabloid - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A

If you think tabloid news today is worse than it's ever been, think again. There's a case from the late seventies that is truly jaw-droppingly shocking, even by today's standards. This is truly shocking stuff: about three quarters of the way through, my mouth opened wider and stayed gaping longer than it has in front of perhaps any other documentary I've ever seen.

Tabloid is amazing, plain and simple. Not so much the film itself, although that is among the most well-assembled of documentaries of recent years, but the content. It's all about one Joyce McKinney, who flew all the way to England from Los Angeles in 1977, just to abduct the Mormon Missionary she was in love with and have allegedly non-consensual sex with him for three days.

Oh, but there's more. So much -- much more.

So much about this story is just plain astounding that one runs the risk of missing the film's broader strengths. This is mesmerizing not just because of what happened in 1977, in connection with a smattering of nearly as incredibly incidents since, but because of the participation of the present-day McKinney herself. This woman fills possibly half the run time of the film, fully engaged in extended interviews, recounting her own recollection of the events in question. You know that saying that the truth is stranger than fiction? Well, some of these bizarre truths are seen coming straight out of McKinney's mouth herself -- admissions that will make you laugh, gag, or blush -- or perhaps all at the same time.

The fact that this very same woman also paid a Korean man to clone her beloved dog -- which resulted in a little of five such clones -- is, if you can believe it, the tip of the iceberg. But McKinney proves herself to be a star among lunatics, the kind of person who looks deceptively normal but proves herself ever more "barking mad," as one British journalist interviewed calls her, the more she opens her mouth. She actually says at one point, "I don't know what a cloned dog story has to do with a Mormon-sex-in-chains story," as though she can't understand why people made such a big deal of the fact that it was her who had cloned her dog.

It's tempting to be disappointed that Kirk Anderson, the man Joyce Abducted, was not interviewed for this film (it's revealed in the credits that he refused). But that's beside the point, given what a pure study this film is in the power of self-delusion. McKinney, in her present-day interviews, speaks articulately and coherently, has a perfectly pleasant demeanor, and for a woman her age looks rather lovely. By looks alone, you kind of just want to hug her. But the more she spins her tale, the more spin you realize there is to it -- while, in the meantime, her interview segments are intercut with interviews with several people close to the case (particularly British tabloid journalists) at the time. They tell their sides of the story, all of which connect far more seamlessly with each other's than they do with her. These are people who both interviewed her and interviewed other people she knew -- including Kirk Anderson -- at the time.

What's at the heart of the matter is what really happened between Joyce and Kirk during that one weekend they spent alone together. It becomes clear from very early on that, due to Joyce living in some different reality from the rest of us, and Kirk's refusal to talk about it, we'll never know the truth. But there still remembers what happened outside of that weekend, witnessed by multitudes of others, which is consistently extraordinary. This applies to everything from witness accounts of the media-frenzied court date after Joyce was arrested for kidnapping, where she quite confidently told the world she was simply trying to de-program Kirk's "brainwashing" at the hands of the Mormon Church, to the very existence of Joyce's own account of the whole story in this very film.

It's hard to find anyone to sympathize or root for in this story. This is usually cited as a fatal flaw in regular movies, but here, bizarreness alone trumps all. I certainly have no inclination to defend the Mormon Church, their beliefs, and their practices; but nor does Joyce give any reason for sympathizing with her. The tabloid journalists, then as now, are their own special breed of villains -- and yet here they provide the kind of juicy details that are only made possible by their professions, and which contribute greatly to how riveting Tabloid is from beginning to end. In a way, this movie serves as a testament to the power of tabloid journalism, and how that power has been alive and well for decades. It may even say something about us, given how impossible it is to look away.

It's not often a woman this nutty has so much charisma. At one point, she actually says her dog used to dial 911 on her phone. How can anyone possibly take such a person seriously, or even continue listening to what she has to say? But Joyce McKinney, former beauty queen, a stunning beauty at the time of the 1977 incident, continues talking, and you just can't stop listening. In one sentence, she'll relate something both immensely fascinating and perfectly plausible, and the next she makes you think, with deep skepticism, ...What??

But she so clearly believes everything she is saying -- and naturally completely loses sight of how much that gives her in common with the Mormons she so openly resents. And everything she has to say, combined with everything people who have met her and are willing to talk about it have to say, plus the heaps of recorded historical fact about this whole unbelievable story, all make for one documentary that is well worth experiencing. Because it's truly an unforgettable experience that is like no other.

Joyce McKinney is train-wreck fascinating in 'Tabloid'.

Overall: A
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